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Stephen M. Downes (Utah), An Early History of the Heritability Coefficient Applied to Humans (1918–1960)

12 July 2022 | 14 h 00 min - 15 h 30 min

Stephen M. Downes is a Full Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Utah (USA). Most of his work is in philosophy of science with special focus on philosophy of biology, philosophy of social science and models and modeling across the sciences. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah, and a member of the PhilInBioMed network.

Detailed CV.

An Early History of the Heritability Coefficient Applied to Humans (1918–1960)

Stephen M. Downes (in collaboration with Eric Turkheimer)

(See full paper here)



Fisher’s 1918 paper accomplished two distinct goals: unifying discrete Mendelian genetics with continuous biometric phe- notypes and quantifying the variance components of variation in complex human characteristics. The former contributed to the foundation of modern quantitative genetics; the latter was adopted by social scientists interested in the pursuit of Gal- tonian nature-nurture questions about the biological and social origins of human behavior, especially human intelligence. This historical divergence has produced competing notions of the estimation of variance ratios referred to as heritability. Jay Lush showed that they could be applied to selective breeding on the farm, while the early twin geneticists used them as a descriptive statistic to describe the degree of genetic determination in complex human traits. Here we trace the early history (1918 to 1960) of the heritability coefficient now used by social scientists.


Behavior genetics · Heritability · Heritability coefficient · Human behavior genetics


12 July 2022
14 h 00 min - 15 h 30 min
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